Film Review: The BFG is a whimsical romp that mostly achieves its goals

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Roald Dahl has written some wonderful children’s books, many of which have infiltrated various facets of my childhood and will stay with me forever. There was the wonderful Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the timeless Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach (and I also LOVE the underrated movie), Matilda and of course the BFG. Thus, when I heard about the film and the fact that it was to be directed by Steven Spielberg, I had to see it as soon as possible. Did it turn out like I had hoped? Well, I would say it was a good (not great) movie that had some flaws but overall was a very pleasurable viewing experience.

Let’s start with the story which is that of a young orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill in her very first role) who is looking out her window one night and spots a giant shadowy figure. That figure captures her but soon turns out to be a harmless character named the Big Friendly Giant (or “BFG” for short and played by Mark Rylance). In fact, he only captured her because he was worried that she would spread the word and then other people would come looking for him in Giant Country and put an end to his way of living. We also see that there are other giants in this land that are much more sinister than our hero and want nothing less than to go hunting and grab children out of their homes to devour. While the BFG collects dreams, Sophie dreams of a better life and together they must come up with a plan to rid the world of those nasty giants.

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The acting is almost a tale of two cities. While Mark Rylance is perfectly cast in the role of the BFG, Ruby Barnhill leaves a little to be desired as Sophie. Much like the young actor who played Mowgli in The Jungle Book, this is Ruby’s first film and I understand that but there are a few forced acting moments that stood out to me and took me out of the movie for a moment that I have to take off points in that regard. She was adequate; we’ll leave it at that. Mark Rylance impressed me (and the Academy) with Bridge of Spies so I was amped to find out that he was playing another important role in a Spielberg film. He knocks it out of the park here – he is sweet, charming, silly, mindful and proud all at once. He is very resourceful and clever as well but also unsure of himself at times and somewhat shy. Rylance pulls all of this off with aplomb and not one flaw. It’s the best mo-cap performance since Andy Serkis wowed audiences with his portrayal of Gollum. No one else really stands out a whole lot but I will say that Jemaine Clement and Bill Hader make for entertaining villains and their voices only add to the fun nature of the film.

The first word I would use to describe the film is whimsical. This is a very sweet family film with hardly anything that would frighten or offend except for perhaps the very young ones. The giants are scary to look at sometimes but they have little things like not being too bright and also fearing water which make them fun to laugh at occasionally as well. The giants also talk in a very amusing manner, often jumbling their words or using ones that are complete nonsense to describe an otherwise-very ordinary concept or word. There is some childish humour in the film but despite the barrage of fart jokes it made me laugh at times (in fact there is one scene containing toilet humour that is possibly one of the best ways I’ve seen a film go about it without being a total wash). Most of the time though I just smiled at the humour and enjoyed the film as it was.

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A very important aspect of this film is the special effects because of course, CGI is used heavily in the film as is motion-capture. The CGI is simply stunning though so you needn’t fear about that. You can even almost see some of Mark Rylance in his character despite him merely performing the role with a mo-cap suit. The giants are nicely designed and you can actually tell the difference between most of them (AHEM, Warcraft, AHEM) and I enjoyed the design of the orbs containing people’s dreams. The scenery and the architecture of some of the buildings in the film is quite stunning as well and you can really see the loads of work put in by Spielberg and his team.

I found the plot somewhat weak at times and the pacing seemed a bit off in the middle of the film where everything just kinda slowed down to a crawl. The stuff with the BFG collecting dreams was odd but… I was OK with it since it actually factored into the story itself. There was just something about it that was sort of under-explained almost as if they expected people to just go with it as a story point. Aside from that, it was still an enjoyable and WHIMSICAL film with solid acting from Mark Rylance and wonderful special effects. Perfect for the whole family as well; just maybe don’t bring reeeeally young kids.

*** ½

 

Rating System:

* (Brutal; the worst rating)

** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)

*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)

**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)

***** (Flawless; a true achievement)